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North American robot orders decline amid economic concerns

North American robot orders decline

Last year witnessed a notable deceleration in the acquisition of robots by North American companies, marking the first setback in five years for what had been a consistent and relentless march of automation into the region's diverse workforce.

The palpable slowdown stemmed from a confluence of concerns, chief among them being apprehensions regarding a sluggish economy and the specter of rising interest rates.

These factors collectively rendered it increasingly challenging for businesses to rationalize investments in the acquisition of these highly advanced machines, thus tempering the otherwise fervent enthusiasm for automation.

Jeff Burnstein, the esteemed president of the Association for Advancing Automation, underscored this sentiment, emphasizing, "When the economy isn’t great, it’s easier to delay purchases." His observation poignantly captures the pivotal role played by prevailing economic conditions in shaping corporate expenditure dynamics, particularly with regard to capital-intensive investments such as robotics.

In the 2023, companies procured a total of 31,159 robots, signifying a substantial 30% decline compared to the previous year's figures. This contraction stands out as the most significant percentage drop witnessed since the bygone era of 2006, and indeed, it marks the largest decrease in absolute numbers ever recorded in the domain of robotic acquisitions.

The downturn reverberated particularly strongly across industries intimately intertwined with automotive manufacturing, a sector historically renowned for its pivotal role in driving demand for robotic systems.

Furthermore, ancillary sectors such as food processing and metals manufacturing also bore the brunt of this downturn, further accentuating the widespread nature of the decline.

Against the backdrop of this overarching decline, the fourth quarter of the year witnessed a further exacerbation of the trend, with robot orders plummeting to 7,683 units. This marked a pronounced 8% decrease compared to the corresponding period in the preceding year, thus consolidating the prevailing narrative of dwindling demand for robotic solutions across various industrial segments.

Nevertheless, amidst the prevailing gloom, glimmers of innovation and progress continue to emerge, albeit in selective pockets of the industrial landscape. For instance, Figure, a burgeoning player in the realm of robotics, recently unveiled an ambitious partnership with the German automaker BMW.

This collaboration aims to deploy cutting-edge humanoid robots within BMW's sprawling South Carolina manufacturing facility, thereby ushering in a new era of automation characterized by unprecedented levels of sophistication and versatility.

Similarly, Tesla, the trailblazing electric vehicle manufacturer, has also thrown its hat into the proverbial ring, embarking on the development of its proprietary humanoid robot, thus signaling its unequivocal commitment to the relentless pursuit of technological innovation.

However, despite these notable strides towards innovation, the broader landscape remains beset by pervasive economic uncertainties and lingering aftershocks stemming from the protracted upheaval wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These twin specters have conspired to engender an environment characterized by tepid demand and surplus inventories, thereby exerting considerable headwinds upon the commercial fortunes of robotic manufacturers.

Universal Robots, a Danish stalwart renowned for its pioneering work in the domain of small, adaptable robots, bore witness to these adverse trends firsthand, with the company reporting a sobering 7% decline in revenue over the course of the year, culminating in a total revenue figure of $304 million as reported by Reuters.



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